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In June 2009, two years after Apple debuted its first-generation iPhone, San Francisco-based game developer Zynga launched Farmville on Facebook. The “social networking” game, in which players build their own agricultural empire and visit their friends’ farmlands, quickly caught on with the platform’s rapidly expanding user base. Farmville quickly became the top game on Facebook, topping 83 million monthly active users at its peak in March 2010 and ushering in a new generation of casual, mobile and social games.

11 years later, one of Zynga’s original founders has a new company aimed at changing the future of gaming. Playco, formed by Zynga founder Justin Waldron and HTML5 inventor Michael Carter, bills itself as the “world’s first instant gaming company.” If you’re unsure what “instant gaming” is, exactly, Waldron and Carter are betting that you will soon enough.

“The vision of Playco is to bring the whole world together through play,” says Carter.

Ambitious goals aside, Playco already has some impressive traction. Last week, the company closed a $100 million Series A funding round, led by Sequoia Capital Global Equities, at a valuation north of $1 billion. Meanwhile, the company’s first two games, Cat Life! and Thug Life, have amassed 100 million plays on Facebook.

Playco’s approach is familiar yet, in many ways, revolutionary to the current model of mobile and online games. The company’s primary focuses are accessibility — allowing players to access their games with a simple tap, no download required — and social interaction.

“We came together to create Playco from the observation of one simple thing: It’s incredibly hard for people to play games together,” Carter says. “If you have two people sitting together in person and they say, hey, let’s play a game together, there are so many steps required to download an app, get connected, create an account and all those things.”

That’s where the “instant” in “instant gaming” comes in.

“We invert that process,” says Carter. “Our games live in the cloud. If you have a phone you already have our games. If you’re in a chat or a video call together, why not turn that chat into a game?”

Carter refers to the current app store experience as a “funnel” that wards off some potential would-be players. “If you think about that in a social context and want to play with a game with say five friends, that gives you at best a 50 percent chance of even one of them wanting to play with you,” he says.

Playco has aimed to eliminate that “friction” by offering games that are ready to play with friends with a single tap. The company’s titles are built from the ground up to be social experiences, but in order to get the games to the polish expected from players in today’s market, the team had to build their own engine.

“We have to be somewhat specialized in the technology that we use. Our goal is to create the same experience you have on a mobile game in terms of production quality because people have phones and there’s a certain level of expectation. With that bar in mind, we have to figure out how to embed that experience within another app, such as TikTok or Facebook or WeChat,” says Carter.

“We are not investing in areas where we cannot create this type of experience,” says Waldron. That means, for a lot of our partners, we are the only company that is exclusively focused on solving this problem.”

Playco has launched at a unique time, both for mobile gaming and remote socialization. As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has forced much of the world to “shelter at home,” both mobile gaming and social networking apps have seen a bump in 2020. Waldron sees the importance of accessible, online social engagement — primarily through gaming — as a trend that will only grow in the future.

“Over the next 10 years, this is such an important long-term bet that we’re willing to invest more than other companies might be able to or willing to,” he says. “We’ve had conversations with pretty much everyone who is operating a social platform at scale.”

Another growing trend is the advent of cloud gaming services, with industry giants from both the tech and game sectors showing increased interest.

“When we look at cloud gaming, I think we look at it as an amazing way for players to get together more easily,” says Waldron. While Google, Amazon and Apple have begun to enter the space — and established game companies like Microsoft and Sony continue to expand their foothold in cloud gaming — Waldron doesn’t necessarily see them as competitors to Playco.

“I think some companies are seeing the opportunity to bring their catalog onto more ecosystems,” he says. “Nothing is competitive in the sense that it could all be another way to enable a new type of gameplay.”

Headquartered in Tokyo, Playco currently employs around 100 workers. The company plans to expand in the future and Waldron and Carter are not shy about looking at the long term when discussing instant gaming.

“We used to have social games on the web and then we got mobile and we stopped having social games and the question is, why?” Carter asks. “We think if we can make it really easy to play together we can really connect the world.”


Photo courtesy of Playco

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